On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a $5.9 million settlement to Juan Isaac Garza, a schizophrenic man who sustained a reportedly self-inflicted brain injury while incarcerated at Twin Towers Correctional Facility in May 2012.
According to Garza’s complaint, because jail deputies and medical staff did not provide adequate monitoring and treatment while he was locked up, he had a seizure and suffered a serious brain injury. Garza was 22 years old at the time of the incident and was being held pretrial for attempted murder.
According to the county’s Summary Corrective Action Plan, the “root cause” of the incident was “the lack of an ‘Inmate Safety Check’ relating to the deputies’ responsibility to call for medical staff when an inmate is man down.” The deputy who found Garza on the ground reportedly only called for mental health staff.
Another inmate reportedly told Ellen Wong, a Jail Mental Health (JMHy Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Jail Mental Evaluation Team (JMET) supervisor who responded to the incident, that Garza was standing on the desk in his cell before falling backward and hitting his head. Garza reportedly repeated the action between 4-6 times.
Wong was asked to assess Garza. The mental health worker said that although she was told Garza had fallen, she saw no signs of injury, and felt that his mental state had not changed from her previous analysis the day before. Wong requested that Garza be moved into a single-man cell for his own safety, because of the young man’s suicidal ideations.
Within two hours of the evaluation, deputies found Garza unresponsive in his cell. According to a jail nursing note, Garza appeared to have trauma and abrasions on his face, and periorbital swelling on the left side.
The Summary Corrective Action Plan also determined that a secondary root cause of the incident was that there were no CCTV cameras installed in the jail in 2012. That was remedied in 2014. Since 2012, the medical and mental health policies and procedures have been clarified and consolidated.
The $5.9 million settlement amount will come from the sheriff’s department budget.
Los Angeles County’s litigation costs jumped 10 percent during the last fiscal year, 2016-2017, over the previous year, according to a January report from County Counsel. The largest payout was a $10.1 million settlement paid to Franky Carrillo, a man wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for 20 years for a murder he did not commit at age 16. It was the largest per anum settlement for wrongful imprisonment in the state’s history. While legal spending was up 10 percent, there were actually fewer lawsuits filed against the county—707, compared with 749 during fiscal year 2015-2016. A total of 189 of last year’s lawsuits were against the sheriff’s department, resulting in $68.6 million in payouts.
Image: Twin Towers Correctional Facility by Basil D Soufi.